Ministry leader Ray Comfort surprised college students and atheists throughout the country on Wednesday when his planned giveaway of On the Origin of Species came one day early.
The book is a special 150th anniversary edition of Charles Darwin's work. But what has many atheists riled up is the added pro-Intelligent Design 50-page introduction, written by Comfort.
When Comfort announced that his ministry, Living Waters, would be distributing more than 100,000 free copies of the special edition to the 100 top U.S. universities, many atheists denounced the effort as shameful in online forums.
"This is a shameful thing that Kirk Cameron and [Ray Comfort] are doing by altering another person's book in order to push their agenda," a post on the "Kirk Cameron has gone too far" Facebook page reads. "But we can help to restore the book to how it was intended and keep young minds from being brainwashed by misinformation."
The giveaway campaign was originally scheduled for Nov. 19. But some students against Comfort's edition encouraged peers to get a hold of as many of the books as possible on the day of distribution to rip out the introduction, which includes a rebuttal to evolution and links the theory to Hitler and racism.
The angry backlash and planned protests prompted Comfort to move the campaign date to Wednesday.
"When Kirk Cameron and I produced a short video-clip explaining what I wanted to do (and posted it online) we were very surprised at the reaction. We kicked a hornet's nest. A big one," the ministry leader said. "[T]here is such a deep-rooted anger in the atheist world about this publication. They desperately want to stop us."
Comfort decided to publish On the Origin of Species with a special introduction offering an alternative perspective when he discovered that Darwin's work was public domain.
"Keeping intelligent design out of schools, is a hill to die on for evolutionists, so when I found that Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was available in the public domain, I had an idea that would get the truth onto college campuses," he said.
The first printing of the book left out four chapters and Darwin's introduction. According to the ministry, they were randomly removed to reduce the cost of printing. But in the second printing, they dropped the text size, which reduced the number of pages, and reproduced Darwin's entire book. The books distributed to students on Wednesday came from the second printing.
The National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools, responded by creating a "Don't Diss Darwin" website. It features an analysis of Comfort's introduction and directs visitors to resources devoted to evolutionary science.
Comfort, meanwhile, doesn't understand why so many atheists are offended. He pointed out that there have been more than 140 different editions of On the Origin of Species, many with their own introductions. His edition simply gave an alternative, Comfort said.
"The exchange of ideas is healthy," he noted.
"Charles Darwin said that both perspectives should be given, and we are giving both in a 50-page Introduction. Like Darwin, we want people to read the two points of view and make up their own minds."